body issues

The CFDA Releases Model Health Guidelines for Fashion Week

Disclaimer: not dinner.
Disclaimer: not dinner. Photo: iStockphoto

CFDA president Diane Von Furstenberg just sent out this season’s guidelines for making sure models are healthy at Fashion Week, which begins February 9. For the past five years, this has been standard practice as part of the organization’s Health Initiative. Von Furstenberg suggests in her e-mail that regulations will be stricter than in seasons’ past, such as in her fall 2011 show when, unbeknownst to her, a then-15-year-old model Hailey Clauson walked. She writes today:

The guidelines recommend that models be asked for i.d. to ensure that they are at least 16 years old on the day of a show and that you avoid having models under the age of eighteen to work past midnight at fittings.  On behalf of The Model Alliance ( we also encourage you to consider model privacy and to have the photographers cleared for first looks.

Top modeling agencies – including DNA, Elite, Ford, IMG, Marilyn, New York Models, Next, One, Supreme, Trump, Wilhelmina, Women and Women Direct – have again pledged that they will not send out models under the age of 16 for shows.   The industry must work together to support this and insist that models show i.d. to casting agents or to someone on the production team.  Any model walking in the Diane von Furstenberg runway will have shown i.d. prior to the show.
We do impact the lives of women and we can set a strong example of a well balanced life on our runways.

The page about the CFDA’s Health Initiative attached to her e-mail reads as follows:

In January 2007, the CFDA formed a health initiative to address what has become a global fashion issue: the overwhelming concern about whether some models are unhealthily thin, and whether or not to impose restrictions in such cases. Designers share a responsibility to protect women, and very young girls in particular, within the business, sending the message that beauty is health.  While some models are naturally tall and thin and their appearance is a result of many factors, including genetics, youth, nutritional food, and exercise, other models have or develop eating disorders. Although we cannot fully assume responsibility  for  an  issue  that  is  as  complex  as  eating  disorders  and  that  occurs  in  many  walks  of  life,  the fashion industry can begin a campaign of awareness and create an atmosphere that supports the wellbeing of these young women. Working in partnership with the fashion industry, medical experts, nutritionists, and fitness trainers, the CFDA formed a committee to propose a series of positive steps designed to promote wellness and a healthier working environment. We recognize that change will take time and are committed to industry-specific educational efforts, awareness programs, support systems, and evaluation and treatment options that advance our recommendations. 

• Educate the industry to identify the early warning signs in an individual at risk of developing an eating disorder.   
• Encourage models who may have an eating disorder to seek professional help in order to continue modeling. And models who are receiving professional help for an eating disorder should not continue modeling without that professional’s approval.   
• Develop workshops for the industry (including models and their families) on the nature of eating disorders, how they arise, how we identify and treat them, and complications if they are untreated.
• Support the well-being of younger individuals by not hiring models under the age of sixteen for runway shows; not allowing models under the age of eighteen to work past midnight at fittings or shoots; checking IDs to ensure that models are the appropriate age; providing regular breaks and rest. • • Consult the applicable labor laws found at when working with models under sixteen.  
• Supply healthy meals, snacks, and water backstage and at shoots and provide nutrition and fitness education.  
• Promote a healthy backstage environment by raising the awareness of the impact of smoking and tobacco-related disease among women, ensuring a smoke-free environment, and address underage drinking by prohibiting alcohol.

The CFDA Health Initiative is about awareness, education, and safety, not policing. Although we do not require a specific body mass index to work, we do recommend that models receive regular medical care to ensure their well-being. 

Also included within these guidelines is a list of “warning signs” for eating disorders from the Harris Center for Education and Advocacy in Eating Disorders at Massachusetts General Hospital. That sheet reads:

Members of the fashion industry – modeling agents, designers, magazine editors, stylists, and models themselves – are on the front line with regard to early recognition of eating disorders in our community.  Identifying and treating eating disorders early can lead to improved outcomes.  Yet early detection of eating disorders can be challenged by the fact that eating disorder symptoms often involve private behaviors or secret thoughts and beliefs that are not apparent from the outside.  Below, we list a number of the more common warning signs. While alone, none of the warning signs listed below indicates a definite eating disorder, each of these behaviors and attitudes, particularly in combination, may warrant clinical attention.   
• Drastic change in eating or exercise patterns
• Skipping meals; eating very little; denying hunger
• Avoiding situations that involve food or eating 
• Unusual food rituals or behaviors  (cutting food into little pieces, pushing food around on plate
without eating it, hiding food in napkin)
• Adherence to a very strict diet or rules about food/eating 
• Obsessive counting of calories, carbohydrates, or fat grams 
• Regularly eating large amounts of food without weight gain
• Tendency to go to the bathroom after eating 
• Hiding food; eating in secret
• Extreme fears of gaining weight 
• Severe dissatisfaction with body weight, shape or appearance
• Rapid weight loss
• Using extreme measures to lose weight (e.g., laxatives, diet pills, diuretics)
• Compulsive or driven exercise; inflexible exercise routine
• Talking about weight, shape, and/or food all the time 
• Irritability, moodiness , depression
• Withdrawing from friends and/or activities 
• Cuts and calluses on the back of the hands
• Dental enamel problems 
• Wearing loose‐fitting clothing to conceal weight loss
• Irregular or absent menstrual cycles
• Sensitivity to the cold

The CFDA should be praised for trying harder and harder each year to ensure working conditions at Fashion Week are not just good, but great for the models who make the shows go round, many of whom are teenagers from far-flung parts of the world and could probably use a little extra coddling. However, it’s also hard not to be reminded that so much effort to employ healthy models wouldn’t be needed if the fashion industry stopped hiring girls who are so freaking thin. It’s easy to get desensitized to the extreme thinness when you work in the industry and see it all the time, but it is still extreme, as any non-fashion person looking at a fashion show will quickly remind you.

Even Vogue’s Grace Coddington said while speaking to a crowd at the New York Public Library in 2009 that the super-thin ideal — which is still very much the ideal, despite the recent successes of a few so-called plus-size models — “is a big problem in the fashion industry. And you go to meetings to discuss it, and you think it’s kind of futile, because it’s such a big thing, and in the end, people are always asking for more and they’re always asking for thinner.” At the time Coddington blamed a lot of the problem on the very young age of models, explaining, “because they’re kids, they take it too far, and they can’t regulate their lives, and next thing you know they’re anorexic, and it is tragic.” She also said, despite her and Anna Wintour’s commitment to working with healthy models, sometimes hiring girls with eating disorders is unavoidable: “You could book them and think they’re a certain size, and they turn up on the shoot and suddenly they’ve spun into this anorexic situation. And you’re on the spot and you have to get the job done and you have one day to do it, and what do you do?”

The CFDA Releases Model Health Guidelines